I was born in 1957 and raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). When I was little I remember attending church allot. I attended Sunday school and the main church meeting. I remember doing all the activities, plays, dances, cook outs, boy scouts, and many other things associated with the church. Like all Mormons I was taught from the book of Mormon every Sunday and had a good understanding of the things presented to a young person.
At some point I remember getting a little green covered bible and reading it. After reading the bible and listening to my Sunday school teachers I started asking questions. I cannot remember the exact things I questions (should have started a diary but didn’t) but I know that the answers did not sit well with me. They either did not answer the question or was told that that was not important. I started to have reservations that later in life developed into doubts. During this time we started to not go to church as often, I do not know why, but still went on a fairly regular basis.
The families that live in our neighborhood were mostly Mormon, however we had one Catholic family and I think one that was some form of evangelical. All the kids got along really well, at least to me there was no religious tension, and I had no restriction placed on us to not associate with non Mormons. I knew several kids who were not allowed to play with non Mormons and I found this wrong.
It was sometime in my early teens that I started to really questioning the teachings of the Mormon Church. I remember while attending Sunday school thinking, I have heard this same thing every year over and over. I felt I was being brainwashed and I did not like it. There were many things that after reading the bible I could not square with those things I was being taught. I started to not want to attend church and resisted when asked. After a while my parents did not try to force me to go but let me decide, which became not often and finally never. It was during my junior high school years that really planted my rejection of Mormonism.
In Utah you are allowed to take LDS seminary as an elective and therefore it was used by a lot of us to not have to take a harder class. It was in this class (the only one I attended) that I came to the conclusion that the teaching of the church was wrong. The teacher when pressed would tell us that the subject in discussion, had been determined by a Church Prophet, and that was that. There was not room for contrary opinion or thought. This really did not sit well with me. My parents had always encourage us to question everything, which now that I look back on I did quite often. I sometimes questioned the definitions of God I encountered but never stopped believing in a Him.
I ended up rejecting the Mormon Church and any Idea of any organized religion. I felt that any religion run by Men was not going to be correct. I still believed in God, the bible, and family. I just did not feel I needed anything else.
I had read a book on North American Indian spirituality (Seven Arrows) and felt that they had a good understanding of things. It showed their belief in a higher spirit and how life’s journey, (the medicine wheel) was a guide to reaching full spiritual awareness. This was what I was feeling and I it had a great impact on my outlook and mindset.
I continued in this manner until I graduated from High school. At that time I decided to join the Navy. When entering in the Navy you are asked to state your religious orientation, I selected none. During boot camp I looked into other religions to just see what it was all about. I look at the Catholic Church, did not like the thought of the Pope who decides doctrine, been there done that. A few evangelical faiths, did not like the instruments and always different views on everything, and decided to not participate in anything.
All this time I still felt God was with me. I believed and He watched over me, we were good.
While serving on an aircraft carrier I developed a back condition that is still with me to this day. This condition would prevent me from finishing my tour of duty and resulted in my being honorably discharged from the Navy.
Upon returning home I entered College in my home town. I don’t remember going to any Church during this time and did not feel that I needed to. None of my friends were very religious and it just did not seem important. I still was where I wanted to be. God and I were still good.
It was in college that I met my future bride and best friend. We had gone to school together, (junior and senior high school), and in my senior year I almost asked her out but did not have the nerve. She was working in the college cafeteria and I used to go there to study after classes. We would talk and she would on occasion take a break and sit with me. I finally asked her out and we began dating.
Religion really never came up and we never really discussed it in any depth. She knew I was raised Mormon and that I did not believe in it any longer, other than that it was not on our radar. It did not even occur to me to find out what religion she was. It finally came up when we decided to get married.
I discovered she was Orthodox and it was very important to her that we get married in her church. Seeing as I did not care one way or another that was fine with me. We arranged a meeting with her priest to find out what was needed to be done so we could get married in the Orthodox Church. It was during these meeting that we were informed that my baptism in the Mormon Church was not recognized as valid by the Orthodox.
This really did not surprise me as I knew that the Mormon beliefs were really different from that of the mainstream Christian community. During this time the priest gave me material to read to see if I was ready to enter into Orthodoxy. I read the material given and found that everything I read was what I already believed.
God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were one God, in Mormonism each is a separate being and not God. The bread and wine were the body of Christ, in Mormonism it was a symbol and a renewal of your commitments. Baptism is the putting on Christ and removing you sins, in Mormonism baptism does remove sin and is a requirement to get into heaven, which is why they baptize dead people. This practice has always seem to be wrong to me seeing that when you are alive you make the decision on what you believe and the bible says once you are gone it’s over. There were other things but you get my drift.
After a few discussions the priest determined that I could be baptized into the Orthodox Church. The church where I was to be baptized had a large metal box for its adult baptismal font. As most know during an Orthodox baptism the person is anointed with oil before emersion and the water blessed also with oil. After the third emersion the priest asked me to standup. To my chagrin I was so oiled up that each time I tried to stand up I slid and went under again. After the numerous times the priest reached in and helped me to stand telling me that that was enough emersions and I was good to go.
The service was awesome and I felt very much renewed and new.
We proceeded to get married. The wedding service had a major impact on me. The service was not us getting just getting married but God uniting us into one with him. The emphasis is on becoming one, self sacrifice to the other, as Christ sacrificed himself for the church. That has stayed with me to this date.
After this we began attending services. The church services were mainly in Greek therefore I read along in the book which had both Greek and English. I found that I was comfortable but not really involved in the worship. Attending Paschal services, so much different from my youth (did not really have a true paschal service). I was really taken with the beauty and majesty of Holy Week.
After our first child we began getting more involved, teaching Sunday school and participating in the yearly festival. We were good, comfortable. This situation remained for a number of years and two priests.
Things changed when we got a new priest. He made some amazing changes that were not immediately accepted. Services were now mostly in English. Bibles were placed in the pews, bible study and classes. He had classes on the history of salvation and the ecumenical councils. He requested everyone sing, to participate, to actively join the worship and get involved. Wow what a difference this had on me. Now I started to see what a treasure I had been given. What a pearl of great price this was.
This man changed me forever, I was no longer just there, I was involved.
He taught me that communion was not something you did every so often but should be done as much as possible as long as you were good with God. I participated in my first sacrament of confession with him. Confession really had not been made a priority to me before and I never really thought a lot about it. I knew we had the sacrament but I thought it was enough after baptism that unless you did something really bad you were ok. He taught me that as we get closer to the light we begin to see all the little marks the light exposes on us. He used the onion as a metaphor that as we continue to strip away the layers we expose those underneath. What a liberating and humbling experience and I still strive to continually strip away layers.
I had joined the Orthodox Church, its worship and all, but now I was actually Orthodox. Services have greater meaning, the theology is now mine and things like daily prayers are something that I looked forward to.
It has been 30 years and I still continue to deepen my understanding of the faith; the depth of it still surprises me, no matter what I learn there is always more.
As I look back over my journey I see God was always there in good times and bad and he did have a plan for me and finally guided me to the truth.